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Montana’s third leading cause of death in 2020 was COVID-19

| November 9, 2021 7:00 AM

COVID-19 associated deaths were the third leading cause of death in Montana last year, and the same ranking likely will hold true for 2021, according to a new report released by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

State health officials note the death record information for 2021 is considered provisional information and will be finalized later in 2022. Also, it’s possible the 2021 leading causes of death rankings could change as death certificate data are finalized.

“As more data becomes available, DPHHS continues to produce reports such as this to demonstrate the impact of COVID-19 in Montana,” DPHHS Director Adam Meier said in a press release. “While Montanans

may not be surprised by the reports’ findings, it serves as a reminder about the importance of getting the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine.”

The report reviewed data of COVID-19 deaths occurring Jan. 1, 2020, through Sept. 30, 2021, from death certificates reported to DPHHS as of mid-October. During that time period, there were 2,100 COVID-19 deaths identified among Montana residents.

Provisional death certificate data show there were 1,258 COVID-19 deaths in 2020 and 842 COVID-19 deaths in the first nine months of 2021 (January–September). To date, the highest number of COVID-19 deaths among Montana residents occurred in October through December 2020.

However, provisional data show that September 2021 approached previous monthly highs. The number of COVID-19 deaths in Montana continues to remain high, with 258 deaths that have occurred in October 2021.

From the average annual number of deaths for the five years prior to the pandemic (2015– 2019), the leading causes of death in Montana were heart disease (average 2,206), cancer (average 2,088), chronic lower respiratory disease (average 720), cerebrovascular disease (average 433), and non‐motor vehicle accidents (average 425). The top two remain heart disease and cancer.

The overall age-adjusted COVID-19 associated mortality rate in Montana was lower than the U.S. and COVID-19 mortality increased with increasing age and was higher among males than females.

Some groups of people in Montana have been affected by the pandemic more than others. The COVID-19 mortality rate among American Indian/ Alaska Native (AI/AN) residents in Montana was four times greater than white Montana residents. And, AI/AN residents died of COVID-19 at younger ages than white residents; the median age at death was 68 years for AI/AN residents and 80 years among white residents.

More than two-thirds of COVID-19 decedents (69 percent) had at least one underlying condition reported. The most reported underlying conditions were cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and respiratory diseases.

“I can’t stress enough that these COVID-19 related deaths are almost entirely preventable,” said DPHHS acting State Medical Officer Dr. Maggie Cook-Shimanek. “Vaccination is the best protection against COVID-19 infection and at preventing severe COVID-19 outcomes, such as hospitalization and death.”